Eon Corp., formerly TV Answer Inc., has virtually disappeared from banks' radar screens after some promising plans to provide financial and shopping services through souped-up televisions.
Meridian Bancorp, Reading, Pa., and Michigan's State Bank of Fenton had both agreed more than three years ago to work with the company on an interactive TV project. Nonbank participants in the project included Intuit Inc., J.C. Penney Co., and Domino's Pizza.
Although federal licensing rules crippled the project before it ever got off the ground, Eon has renewed its interest in interactive television. However, executives say this time around the company plans to eschew banking services in favor of three nonbanking applications - interactive polling, advertising, and messaging.
Ted Tarr, a senior vice president of sales and marketing for Eon, said the company "just hasn't seen the demand" to do banking via TV. Although he said banking could be "interfaced" into the system that Eon is building, he cautioned that Eon has "stopped trying to develop those applications ourselves."
Eon's change of heart on TV banking is the latest cautionary message coming from this cutting-edge area of financial services.
Last month, Shawmut National Corp. officially scrapped its high-profile plans with AT&T to provide banking services over a set-top box.
Mr. Tarr attributed Eon's pulling back to a downsizing of the company and its "more limited resources." The number of Eon employees has shrunk from about 450 at its peak to 65 now.
Eon's problems left its two banks looking for new partners, but both say they remain eager to pursue work on the television platform.
Joseph Pendleton, a senior vice president at Meridian, said his bank - which is being acquired by CoreStates Financial Corp. - is currently in talks with a start-up company that offers broadband network communication services.
Mr. Pendleton said that the level of service Meridian had been planning to offer through Eon would not fly in today's market, because consumer expectations of interactive television have risen dramatically in the last few years.
"If this could have been done in '89 or '90, it could have worked," he said. "Now, in '95, it won't."
For now, the personal computer is hogging the home banking spotlight.
Dale Reistad, a consultant and former executive at Eon who left in 1993, said interactive television will be "chasing the PC for the immediate future ... but interactive television can catch up very quickly."
A couple of major interactive television projects still exist. Barnett Banks Inc., Jacksonville, Fla., has been working with Time Warner Inc. for more than a year to provide banking services for the cable company's interactive television project in Florida. Experts said it is the most ambitious project to date.
National Westminster Bancorp began piping mortgage services into eight branches and seven realty offices six months ago via a two-way cable connection. Consumers can see video images of the sales representatives at the bank as they talk with them.
Andrew DeMeo, a spokesman for the Jersey City-based bank, said more than 175 customers have used the service. Those using the service are twice as likely to file an application as other customers who discuss mortgages with the bank, Natwest officials said.